January sometimes arrives like a cold wet blanket giving way to mid-winter blues. My remedy is to hit the senses with a burst of marmalade making. A whole afternoon of chop, juice, slice and watch, over a hot pan might not be everyone’s idea of a cure for seasonal affective disorder. But when the bright little organic oranges from Seville arrive at this time of year, I cannot resist. Cheered on by a pan full of bittersweet oranginess bubbling away, making my kitchen all warm and steamy and turning out five and half jam jars full of very zingy sunshine marmalade has to be up there on the list of mood changers. Continue reading
I hope there is a glut of English courgettes this year, I have so many great recipes I want to try out now that I’ve got a brand new gadget that turns a courgette into spaghetti or linguine, either will do.
Meet the spiraliser, it seems to be this years top kitchen gadget; looks like an egg timer with a bite: teeth either side for variable cutting thickness.
Turns out spirals of courgette makes for a really good pasta substitute if like me you’re cutting down on the carbs. And so long as you don’t over cook the courgetti so that it stays firm and doesn’t go limp, it really does have a good structure (like pasta) to hold together whatever else you want to add.
My recipe is a minty summery mix of 1 large courgette, a handful of peas, another handful of mint, 2 tspn of lemon juice, 1 tspn of lemon zest, pinch of salt, pop an edible flower on top and that’s it.
Another recipe I love with courgette is Crab and Avocado Linguine from Amelia Freer’s blog. I’m enjoying her book, Eat, Nourish, Glow, life lessons on how to eat well and mindfully. She writes about grace around food, and asks the reader ‘what kind of eater are you?’. Well I never really thought about that but it’s a really good question. I’d say I’m a greedy eater. Greedy for good wholesome food but as the scales show, you can have too much good food. ‘Indulge on life, not food,’ she says. Yeah I’m up for that. So out goes the pasta and in with all the courgettes I can eat, well not literally but the season will be here soon and it will be fun trying out different recipes, mindfully I should add. Did I mention the flowers? Totally decadent, but only in moderation, of course.
Until now, the only other time I made lemon curd was back in Mrs Clarke’s domestic science lesson, I was thirteen. But, only after we had learned to poach an egg, whisk up a egg mayonnaise from scratch, knock up a good firm but not too firm egg custard, and finally create the pièce de résistance: a béchamel sauce with added cheese poured over boiled eggs cut in half lengthways et voilà: Eggs Mornay. All that French influence and fancy cooking was an eye opener to my mum back in the 60s, when every Wednesday afternoon I brought home the finished project. Looking back I am very grateful to Mrs Clarke, who not only looked a bit like Delia, she cooked like her. Mrs Clarke was very meticulous: everything measured, everything timed, everything perfect. The world was ordered and safe and backed up with handwritten notes in blue ink.
Mrs Clarke’s methods gave me the confidence to throw the rule book out the window and learn to trust my own palate and improvisation in the kitchen (more Nigella than Delia). Anyway, back to the home-made lemon curd which once graced the tea table of all the families I knew when I was growing up, then it seemed to go almost extinct and we all turned our noses up at it. Well I’m sure that’s not entirely true but it wasn’t very cool to eat it or make it and the last time I bought a jar it tasted like it would strip the enamel off my teeth in one go. I don’t think my grown up children have ever eaten it.
And then the world turned upside down and it became cool to be making jam and lemon curd and blackberry vinegar and wonderful stuff for my kitchen store cupboard and gifts for friends. These things have become luxuries and lovely indulgencies because the raw materials can be hard to find, time being one of them, and the fact that they only come in one season. (That said, I discovered it is possible to buy sloes on ebay and I can always buy fresh over blown blackberries all the year round in supermarkets, at a price but I don’t.)
But then there are certain lemons, and certain oranges like the ones from Seville that really are only available in one short season, so that to me makes them rather special and highly desirable because they are prized for their particular and consistent flavour and then once they’re gone, they’re gone until, you hope, the next season. So I was very excited when I got hold of a supply of Bergamot lemons more often called Bergamot orange (so it goes a cross breed of bitter orange and lemon). Marmalade is at the top of the list and then out of nowhere I started thinking about making lemon curd.
The Bergamot lemon/orange gives Earl Grey it’s distinctive citrus flavour. The taste is not quite as sour as a lemon and is recommended for several orange deserts as I found during my searches on the Internet. I used Nigel Slater’s recipe for lemon curd as my starting point as this one has less sugar than a few others I checked, he also adds more yolk than egg white which made sense to me. The same web page suggests other things you can do with this wonderful, under-appreciated, lemony butter.
Zest & juice of 5 Bergamot lemons 100 g butter 3 eggs plus an extra yolk 200 g castor sugar
Melt butter, sugar with zest and juice in a bowl over a pan of simmering hot water. Whisk lightly until sugar melted. Beat together the eggs and add to the mix, keep frisking until the consistency is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon, lick to test sharpness, add another lemon if it’s not to your liking. I added the fifth lemon at this point. I was happy with the consistency after about 15 minutes. Let it cool a bit, then pour it into a measuring jug ready for pouring into two small jars. I had exactly half a litre which filled two jars plus a little left over for sampling.
I placed the sample in the freezer for about half an hour to thicken up quickly. It was divine stirred into a bowl of plain yogurt. Top banana in fact. Seems like only a little output for a lot of ingredients but I prefer it that way, all the better to savour and keep fresh. Short, sharp and sweet just the way I like it.
Over the last two weeks there’s been enough for several feastings. O-M-Gosh, the best part is cooking and eating the flowers. A courgette or zucchini, same thing, is the immature fruit, like a swollen ovary behind the big blousey, yellow female flower.
A clever plant that produces male and female flowers at the same time, convenient for pollination if you’ve only got room for one plant. The male flowers wiggle around on long stems intent on attracting passing insects.
I haven’t seen any bees in my garden since before all that rain so it must be other insects pollinating the plants. I often find ants inside the flowers so maybe that’s it. That means I’ve probably cooked and eaten a few.
I followed Hugh Fearless Whittingstall’s recipe on how to cook the flowers in a batter, but opted out of the cheese filling because I wanted a ‘virgin’ experience since this was my first time ‘eating flowers’.
He’s right this is the most exquisite and delicious, gorgeous vegetable you can put in your mouth. A couple of years ago during a long stay in Rome, I curiously watched housewives buy zucchini flowers by the boxful from the local food market in Testaccio. My loss for not finding out there and then what those women knew about eating the lotus flower.
A plate full of lightly battered courgette flowers served with a couple of tasty dips and a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio at lunch time, and you’d want to put off the rest of the day until tomorrow.
I make no apology for another Thai inspired, heat inducing, salad. The days are still chilly. This one starts with home grown broad beans and my new favourite vegetable: kholrabi `Azur Star’ from the veg to grow box.
What a nice tidy habit it has sitting there waiting to be plucked out of the ground and straight into a salad. Even the leaves won’t go to waste. It has to be one of the best convenience foods you can grow.
I pushed a few of the smaller beans whole, through the bean slicer (brilliant invention) and increased the bean count with a handful of nice fat beans from this week’s veg box.
Peeling the kholrabi and slicing into thin strips was a joy (cooks call it julienning) it’s oh, so fresh. I added a tin of organic chick peas to give more substance and texture, and combined all together with a salad dressing based on the Thai Som Tam recipe:
Take: 1 tbsp roasted salted peanuts, or 1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter, 1 tbsp lime juice, red chillies, chopped and de-seeded according to how much fire you like in your salad, 1 tbsp fish sauce and a clove of garlic, chopped. 1 tsp of chilli jam or sugar/honey to sweeten.
Slip all the goodies into a jam jar and shake rattle and roll until all the flavours have turned into one big party, make sure the lid is on tight, otherwise make a less frenetic version and frisk it all up in a bowl.
To finish I sprinkled a few chopped leaves from my Vietnamese coriander plant. This dish has all sorts of potential to be be played up or down on flavour. Just pick a country and run with your imagination. Let me know if you do … every cook has their own favourite dressing, I’d love to hear yours.
The weeks seem to fly by with a veg box, remembering what I ate last week unless I blog it just seems to slip clean out of mind. However, seeing a fresh bunch of oregano on top of this week’s box today, reminds me that it made an appearance last week and I mindlessly steamed ahead and turned it into Pea and Mint soup . . . or so I thought . . . now I remember thinking it wasn’t quite as sweet as I was expecting and added a teaspoon of sugar.
Admittedly oregano, also known as wild marjoram is from the same family as mint but how could I mistake it? There’s even some growing in my herb bed along with oregano country cream, a variegated variety and more aromatic, very pretty. With the second bunch of oregano I’m going to have a go at drying it as the flavour should be all the better for it and I can store it. Here it is upside down in the bag, stapled at the bottom to allow some air in as it dries over the next 2 weeks. Find somewhere warm and dry to hang it.
Apparently, rosemary is good for sharpening one’s senses and an aide to memoir whereas, lavender which I use liberally in liquid form for insect bites, headaches, burns and other minor life crisis is a natural calming sedative. Perhaps I need to change my medication?
Finely chop 1 medium onion, saute gently in a little olive oil and butter, I then added a handful of leftover, cold new potatoes, mix up with the onions to soak up oil. Add 1 litre of vegetable stock water, boiling. Simmer for a couple of minutes then add 300g of frozen peas and simmer for 5 minutes. Add fresh oregano (or mint) and allow to wilt a minute or so.
Blitz in a food processor or liquidiser, return to the pan heat up and then add another 300g of frozen peas and simmer another few minutes till peas are cooked. Season to taste and add a little sugar if you like. Eating whole peas in a pea soup which is traditionally a very smooth affair is a delightfully, refreshing unexpected experience; they do actually go pop in your mouth. Try it … let me know if it works for you.
Last word over to Hippocrates: According to the Oracle, H used oregano as an antiseptic as well as a cure for stomach upsets and respiratory troubles. Worth a try.
So back to the kitchen to forage for leftovers: 2 onions, 1 potato, 3 eggs, head of broccoli, scraggly bunch of spring onions, a few mushrooms and lots of salad leaves and herbs growing outdoors. But it’s not enough to not have to go shopping this week.
Some little body out there has started munching my food, one lettuce and one spring onion has vanished but that’s OK, I guess so long as they leave enough for me. The 80/20 rule sounds about right if I get the lion’s share of what I grow and whatever can have the rest. Seems a fair deal and garden bug friendly. If not, I could resort to counter measures by placing grit around the salad basket, would that create a barrier and stop the slugs in their tracks? But what about the little critters with wings?
After this I should have the stamina to go out and face shopping.
Time to head out to the garden and harvest the first crop of salad leaves from the Riverford veg to grow range together with a few hand picked leaves from the Norfolk herb mint collection (apple, lime, orange). I’ve managed to keep all the seedlings alive since they arrived five weeks ago in April. The spring onions in the box next to the lettuce are a bit weedy, they need re-homing to get more growing room.
The rocket has sprouted a flower head, best nip that in the bud to encourage more leaf growth. According to the BBC web site lack of water encourages the plant to put its energy into producing flowers. Water supply is down to me as I’m still hand rearing some of the veg plants until it warms up but overcrowding is probably stressing plants that have reached the limits of their pots. Behind the rocket, the beetroot plants are pushing on as are the cabbage, rainbow chard, mustard, tomato and kohlrabi. Investing in the cool cupboard (sold as a mini greenhouse, out of season) has paid off during our very chilly spring. But it is time to move most of the the plants on.
Anyway back to lunch. Choice of the day: Halloumi cheese sliced and cooked in olive oil with a few capers added seems like a worthy accompaniment to my first, hand picked, home made salad AND three flavours of mint. A splash of red pepper that’s been skinned alive (charred under the grill until the black crispy skin peels away) turns my lunch into a visual feast.
Always worth the effort to rustle up fresh dressing: 1 tsp of grain mustard, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 3 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp apple juice + seasoning
Tasting so many different kinds of leaves in one salad is novel and the lime, apple and orange mint flavours punctuate each mouthful like lots of little exclamation marks!
I discovered soufflé during the, so-called winter of discontent. It was 1974 and I’d just set up home and had my first proper job, working albeit a three day week. My employer was having such a hard time, he asked us to prioritise calls because it was cheaper to phone in the afternoon. The current BBC TV series, The Real 1970s reminds me of those bleak times with fuel rationing, food shortages, inflation out of control, power cuts and total black outs.
I got through those cold, dark winter nights tucked up in bed reading by candlelight Elizabeth David’s, French Provincial Cookery book. Perversely, reading about food seemed the next best thing to eating it. She wrote about food for the soul, which was such an exotic idea compared to the ideas I’d got from cook books written by sensible women who called themselves home economists. Fantasising about foreign foods and experimenting with new recipes cheered me up no end. I owe Ms David, it was a revelation as well as an education. My favourite frugal meal, at the time was ED’s cheese soufflé. Having a dozen hens as neighbours and a generous owner helped to keep up my soufflé habit.
Back to the future, it’s the day before the next veg box delivery and I’m rummaging around the fridge for a meal: half a head of calabrese and three eggs. Inspired by my 1970s food memories it seems right to get out the soufflé dish from the back of the cupboard and see if I’ve still got the knack.
Take: a handful of calabrese (broccoli), 3 eggs separated, 25g butter, 30g plain flour, 50g hard cheese, 300ml milk, fresh grated nutmeg, seasoning.
Butter 1 litre soufflé dish. Pre-heat oven 200C, Gas 6. Make a white sauce, remove from heat, season. Add cheese, nutmeg and three egg yolks. Set aside. Cook calabrese, chop finely. Whisk egg whites to stiffness. Fold in calabrese followed by egg whites. Pour mixture into the dish and cook for 30 minutes until well risen and brown. Serve immediately. Super duper expialidelicious! As good now as it was back then.